Author On the Bookcase: Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Please welcome Jyotsna Sreenivasan to On the Bookcase! Jyotsna tells us why she wrote her latest novel, And Laughter Fell from the Sky, with Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth in mind.
My new novel, And Laughter Fell from the Sky, was inspired and influenced by a classic novel first published in 1905: The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. While some readers find this connection to a classic novel fascinating, others question why an author would base a new novel on an existing novel.
Why, indeed? Why not make up something completely new?
Here is my answer: writing is a form of communication, just as talking is. We don’t learn to talk in isolation. We learn to talk by listening to others speak, practicing speech ourselves, receiving feedback, listening some more, and practicing some more. We are influenced by the speakers around us to adopt a certain accent, vocabulary, and choice of topics.
It’s natural that, as writers, we are influenced, consciously or not, by other books and written materials. We learn to write by reading, practicing writing, receiving feedback, reading some more, and writing some more.
We all know that many of Shakespeare’s plays were inspired and influenced by the work of other writers. Romeo and Juliet was probably based on a long poem called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke. King Lear was likely influenced by another play called The True Chronicle History of King Leir. In turn, Jane Smiley based her novel A Thousand Acres on the King Lear story. And of course there are zillions of books out now based on Jane Austen’s work.
I recently read another new novel based on The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. The Innocents by Francesca Segal follows Wharton’s novel very closely in terms of characters and plot. Segal even imitates Wharton’s introspective, leisurely writing style. Still, Segal manages to infuse her characters – part of a close-knit Jewish community in London – with their own souls, and for me the story was brought alive in a new way in Segal’s book.
My novel is not as close to The House of Mirth as The Innocents is to The Age of Innocence. For one thing, I did not aim to imitate Wharton’s prose. I wanted to include more dialogue and fewer inner thoughts, and I wanted to avoid authorial explanations. My characters are based more loosely on Wharton’s characters, and in some cases offer a contrast to the corresponding Wharton character.
*If you’re interested in pairing modern novels with classics, here are some resources:
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Jyotsna Sreenivasan was born and raised in Ohio. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and she has received literature grants from the Washington, D.C., Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The author of several nonfiction books published by academic presses and the creator of the online Gender Equality Bookstore, she lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her family. And Laughter Fell From the Sky is her first novel.